The second largest city in Vietnam, Hanoi is an incredible fusion of Vietnamese street culture, French colonial architecture, and modern sensibilities. The city is vibrant and hip, and enjoys large communities of artists, musicians, and backpackers. The traffic may seem frantic and stressful, but expats in Hanoi enjoy a laid back and accommodating lifestyle.
Ground Zero for every Hanoi rookie is the Old Quarter, known locally as Hoan Kiem, located in the heart of Vietnam's capital city. Wrapping around the historic Hoan Kiem Lake, which itself boasts the popular Ngoc San Temple and the picturesque Thap Rua, the Old Quarter is a winding labyrinth of narrow streets lined with bustling markets and the wafting smells of street food. Expect to be offered a ride in a meandering rickshaw and don't miss the famous night market on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from 7 to 11 PM. The largest attraction in the Old Quarter is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, a vast complex of courtyards and monuments where visitors can view the resting place of Vietnam's most celebrated figure.
The biggest hub for foreigners in Hanoi is Tay Ho (West Lake) , a beautiful, scenic district North of the Old Quarter littered with Western food options and exciting nightlife. Brave the giant pizzas at Linguini Fini's and don't miss Open Mic Night every Wednesday at Hanoi Rock City. Tay Ho offers a splendid view, across the large lake, of the Lotte Tower, whose observation deck on the 65th floor offers a stunning view in return.
You would be short-changing yourself, however, not to venture outside of the city's two biggest tourist bubbles. Hanoi is hiding treasures in alleys and corners all across its 12 districts. Make time for a daytrip to the Perfume Pagoda, a Buddhist complex Southwest of Hanoi, accessible only after a row and a hike, built high into the cliffs of Huong Tich mountain. Head out to the Ba Trang Ceramics Village where you can sit down for a lesson on Vietnam's celebrated pottery traditions. Hanoi is not short on fascinating temples and well-curated museums, such as the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, the Temple of Literature, The Museum of Ethnology, and Bach Ma Temple.